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American ex-fighter pilot accused of illegally training Chinese aviators can be extradited to U.S., Australian judge says

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A Sydney judge on Friday ruled that former U.S. Marine Corps pilot Daniel Duggan can be extradited to the United States on allegations that he illegally trained Chinese aviators, leaving the attorney-general as Duggan's last hope of remaining in Australia.

Magistrate Daniel Reiss ordered the Boston-born 55-year-old to remain in custody awaiting extradition.

While his lawyers said they had no legal grounds to challenge the magistrate's ruling that Duggan was eligible for extradition, they will make submissions to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on why the pilot should not be surrendered.

"The attorney will give us sufficient time, I'm quite sure, to ventilate all of the issues that under the Extradition Act are not capable of being run in an Australian court," Duggan's lawyer, Bernard Collaery, told reporters outside court.

Dreyfus' office said in a statement the government does not comment on extradition matters.

Duggan's wife and mother of his six children, Saffrine Duggan, said the extradition court hearing was "simply about ticking boxes."

Former U.S. Marines Corp pilot Daniel Duggan poses for a picture in this undated handout picture
Former U.S. Marines Corp pilot Daniel Duggan, who is facing extradition to the United States for allegedly breaking U.S. arms control law after he trained Chinese pilots, poses for a picture in this undated handout picture.   Warwick Ponder/Handout via REUTERS

"Now, we respectfully ask the attorney-general to take another look at this case and to bring my husband home," she told a gathering of reporters and supporters outside court.

Earlier this month, Duggan's lawyer said in a legal filing that the pilot unknowingly worked with a Chinese hacker, the Reuters news agency reported.

The pilot has spent 19 months in maximum-security prison since he was arrested in 2022 at his family home in the state of New South Wales.

In a 2016 indictment from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., unsealed late 2022, prosecutors say Duggan conspired with others to provide training to Chinese military pilots in 2010 and 2012, and possibly at other times, without applying for an appropriate license.

Prosecutors say Duggan received about nine payments totaling around 88,000 Australian dollars ($61,000) and international travel from another conspirator for what was sometimes described as "personal development training."

A highly regarded jet pilot, Duggan spent 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, reaching the rank of major and working as a tactical flight instructor before immigrating to Australia in 2002. In January 2012, he gained Australian citizenship, choosing to give up his U.S. citizenship in the process.

The indictment says Duggan traveled to the U.S., China and South Africa, and provided training to Chinese pilots in South Africa.

Duggan has denied the allegations, saying they were political posturing by the United States, which unfairly singled him out.

Duggan worked at a company called Top Gun Tasmania, which billed itself as the Australia's "premier adventure flight company."

On the company's now-defunct web page, Duggan described himself as a "former U.S. Marine Corps officer of over 12 years."  He flew missions in support of Operation Southern Watch from Kuwait and the USS Boxer, the website says. 

"As a highly trained fighter pilot, he flew harrier jump jets off of aircraft carriers tactically around the globe," the website said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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